how to sing than teach 10,000 stars how not to dance.” – e.e. cummings
I can trace my artistic beginnings definitively to my eleventh year and photography to my first camera at age fourteen. But tracing the start of my interest in bird watching is more difficult. The earliest time I remember noticing varieties of birds was when I moved to a home with twenty-five year old pines standing as sentinels around the yard ‘proper’. Beyond the pines were fields, hedge-rows, and woods. There was already a wide variety of well-established bushes and shrubs to which I eventually added blueberry bushes, blackberry and grape vines, and a large herb garden.
As if that were not enough, I began putting out feeders of different types and Bluebird houses. With each addition I observed more types of birds. The usual North Carolina birds – Northern Cardinals, Purple Finches, Gold Finches, Robins, and Blue Jays- were already in residence but others joined them. So armed with curiosity and a penchant for classifying and identifying flowers, plants and wildlife I purchased my first birding field guide. I began jotting dates and places in the margins as I successfully identified those ‘backyard’ visitors.
Probably my initial ‘rare’ bird, which I’ve since discovered is not as much rare as it is elusive, was the Rufous-Sided Towhee (which someone in their dubious wisdom renamed a bland, less expressive name of Eastern Towhee). There had been an ice storm and many of the branches from the pines had fallen and seeds had been jostled from the various feeders. My first glimpse of the Towhee was in the midst of Juncos, Carolina Chickadees, Cardinals and others feeding on the snow-and-ice covered ground together.
Later I would discover Neo-tropical birds. In a one-day seminar,at Hill Forest in Durham, North Carolina, I learned that many of our unusual birds are only seen here in the summer. Neo-tropical birds migrate primarily from South and Central America to breed in the United States and Canada. As time went by I began my ‘life-list’ which now stands at 145 different birds. In order to more readily identify my winged friends on trips beyond the scope of Roger Tory Peterson’s guide to Eastern and Central North America I added a Western Birds field guide and Birds of Alberta. Since then I’ve added a pair of strong but small binoculars and a large telephoto lens for my Nikon camera. With this gradual gathering of knowledge and equipment I’ve become an amateur ‘birder’.
While I can recognize some bird calls readily I’m much more visual than auditory in my pursuit of bird identification. Through the years I’ve had many memorable birding moments. I saw my first Golden and Bald Eagle on the same day while fishing from a canoe on the Tuckertown Reservoir. The next time I saw a Bald Eagle he was fishing on the Green River in Wyoming and flew away with a fish in his claws. I saw my first Pileated Woodpecker when I moved to Ashe County with my husband two years ago. While I still enjoy the excitement and challenge of identifying a new bird there is a great deal more I find enjoyable about birding now.
Birding for me is about observing and enjoying the colors, behaviors, calls and movements of various birds. The most perfect natural blue of the Indigo Bunting, the stunning red of a Northern Cardinal, the sparks that are a ‘rush’ of American Goldfinches. Even the morning-suit-and-top-hat gray of a Tufted Titmouse and the charcoal and white of the Dark Eyed Junco (better known as the amazingly accurate ‘snow bird’) have their attractions. Other enticements of birding for me include the antics of Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds trying to prevent each other from sipping all the ‘nectar’ from numerous feeders; the grand golden-eyed stare of the Osprey; the small-but-powerful vocalization of a Song Sparrow in search of the perfect acoustical location; the majestic soar of hawks tracing invisible currents in a clear sky.
But one of the best memories I have so far, which will be difficult to outshine, is of seeing a baby Eastern Bluebird fledge from one of my bluebird houses a few years ago. The male bluebird called to the fledgling from the top of a pine tree encouraging it to make its maiden flight to the lower branches under his ‘dad’. Then the female bluebird began her calls from the top of a pine several trees away. The fledgling flew haltingly up to a higher branch, then over to the next tree, and finally took off to his ‘mother’. As soon as the fledgling left his perch the male bluebird darted down and flew under it all the way to the tree where the mother cheered the little bird forward. It was as if the male bluebird was saying, “You go ahead and spread your wings. If you falter I’m right here to catch you.”